[Air-l] Re: Road Warrior: Cultural History and Theory

Wendy Robinson wgrobin at duke.edu
Mon May 27 11:52:04 PDT 2002


As is so often the case, e-roads and railroads typically lead back to the 
anomie and distributed communication enabled by the telegraph.  Many of the 
"road warrior" issues have been theoretically considered within cultural 
studies by those influenced by Innis, McLuhan, Beniger and Carey for many 
years.  Nothing new in that for most on this list.

Or to take the high(brow in the PBS sense) road and cite communication in 
the ancient distributed empires of Alexander and later Rome, before and 
after Catholicism, the "road warrior" metaphor can be pushed to its 
somewhat natural and far-fetched origination point.  It seems to not be 
"new" to live a life on the road, to conquer and to convert or "civilize" 
in various ways, with dispatches sent to a central or regional office 
within a bureaucratic infrastructure.  The expansion and movement of 
capital requires such travel.  Electricity is not required, much less 
airplanes or the Internet or virtuality.  In the past, wheels and inns may 
have been essential however.

But to open up rather than curtail theory, I find Raymond Williams's 
"mobile privatization" from his slender book _Television_ (1974) to be 
quite useful.  Williams seeks to account for the slow adoption of 
television and the myriad technocultural influences that perhaps only 
accidentally contributed to what was thought of as the relatively stable 
construction of network television pre-cable.  Williams traces the growth 
of broadcast communication and its devices within the framework of rapid 
industrialization and an increasingly fluid, mobile existence for the Anglo 
middle-class in the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries.

I've only glossed _Television_ here and may not have done Williams's 
pathfinding justice, but I find this conceptualization useful in various 
ways as I write on post-Web and wearable communication -- on the road, 
across the globe, at different nodes on campuses and in town, or within the 
same room but communicating other than or in addition to face to face, 
online plus offline.  We're often connected now 24/7 and it no longer 
necessarily means picking up voice mail or waiting for faxes and logging in 
and out.  Whether we're frequent fliers or not, or typically "phone in," at 
the societal level (yes, including the Taliban of Afghanistan, the Amish of 
Pennsylvania and Indiana, groups in India and South America -- see Sadie 
Plant's "On the Mobile" [2001]), many of us are getting geared-up and 
becoming "road warriors" of sorts.  We don't stay put and that requires 
wires and GPS and various kinds of personal and infrastructural telecom 
paraphernalia.

Barry Wellman's initial post is rich in its implications.





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